Scapegoat

Two people pointing at a man in a chairA scapegoat is a person, group, or entity who is targeted for blame for something he or she was not responsible for.

What Is a Scapegoat?

When something bad happens, people almost always seek an explanation. When people cannot find an explanation or wish to avoid attributing blame to the actual cause, sometimes they turn to a scapegoat. The process of scapegoating can be a long and extensive one. The person assigning blame may enlist the help of others, point to past blameworthy behavior of the scapegoat, or engage in abusive treatment of the scapegoat. Governments involved in scapegoating sometimes embark on propaganda campaigns.  Scapegoats can suffer a variety of negative consequences including loss of social status, economic problems, social isolation, and depression. People are more likely to engage in scapegoating when they are stressed, experiencing oppression, or afraid. Scapegoating, in turn, can lead to the oppression of a scapegoated group.

Examples of Scapegoating

Most people engage in scapegoating at one time or another. A person who blames his or her partner for a burglary because he or she left the door unlocked or left a valuable possession visible is scapegoating. Some scapegoating campaigns, however, have been so extensive that they have had disastrous sociopolitical and human rights consequences.

For example, in the 1940s, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States began an anti-Japanese propaganda campaign and imprisoned thousands of Japanese-Americans. Anti-Japanese racism lingered for years as many people blamed all Japanese people for the bombing. Additionally, some historians believe that scapegoating was a major factor in the Holocaust. After World War I, Germany was decimated, and Adolf Hitler rose to power by promising to make Germany strong again, blaming Jewish people for a host of social ills.

Scapegoats in Family Therapy

In some families, one family member takes on the blame for all or most of the family’s problems; some refer to this person as the “black sheep.” Some families enter therapy specifically to address the problems of the scapegoat. For example, one child might have behavioral problems that prompt the entire family to seek therapy out of a belief that the child’s behavior problems are tearing the family apart.

Family therapists are trained to recognize when a family is scapegoating one member and, through therapy, attempt to help the family understand that the scapegoat’s problems are something in which the entire family participates. Some family systems theorists argue that the scapegoat is simply trying to draw attention to larger family problems with his or her behavior. Tools for dealing with scapegoating include helping each family member recognize his or her role in family problems, altering family dynamics so that each family member is responsible for the functioning of the family, and examining overlooked problems within the family system.

References:

  1. Boss, P. (2002). Family stress management: A contextual approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  2. Scapegoat theory. (n.d.). Psychology Glossary. Retrieved from http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Scapegoat Theory.
  3. Scapegoating research and remedies. (n.d.). The Scapegoat Society. Retrieved from http://www.scapegoat.demon.co.uk.

Last Updated: 02-17-2017

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  • Andrew L.

    Andrew L.

    October 6th, 2017 at 4:02 AM

    Ima scapegoat waiting explicit pain and wrong doings for the blame of my ex partner whom can’t handle her own truth seeking real help asap

  • Deb L

    Deb L

    December 7th, 2017 at 7:20 PM

    Happened (and continues) within what is typically the very close family that grew up under one roof. In stressful economic times, I was punished, locked in my room, hit with a belt , spit into my face. I am the first born and only female. Have two brothers. Last belting was in 8th grade (I hid it .) At 17, the spitting in my face was after my mother enraged my father to a point of uncontrolled anger. The window of my room was opened and EVERTHING thrown onto the front yard in the late night. My mother would taunt me that she was planning to enrage my father… she smiled and would whisper…”If your dad has a stroke or heart attack…it will all be your fault. My family members are all very overweight. I stuck to weight watchers at age 14, and learned it as a life style. I married the first man I met to escape . I became pregnant and the husband made a good living. Suddenly, I was adored by my mother. Cut to today, I had to divorce due to the sexual and money addiction of the husband. Somehow woth 3 children I met a man with values and 1 child on a walk. As happily ever after began in 2003, I was cut from all family gatherings …it was slight , then I found emails written about me to the family. Upon direct communication…the woman I thought was my mother admitted she lied about me. She could not answer as to “why”? This woman, the man who fathered me, and 1 brother I protected from bullies, another brother I was made to care for as a newborn when I was 10, all cut me from contact. They do invite my now adult children to Holidays, and social gatherings. Funny…I am nothing like them. I earned a dance scholarship to attend college, traveled throughout the USA and to Tokyo, Japan. I was on the deans list, graduated with a bachelors and made an unbelievable amount of money for my mother and father’s company. At 50, I was duped a last time , the company sold to the 2 overweight, racist, and ignorant brothers. Call me dumb… somehow when a person is in the middle of a vortex, it is not visible until one is watching it from a far distance.
    My posture is not to drop to the low class level. I simply know and when asked, I say ” I have no contact from them as to what they are doing , nor why. Until there is a point to start at, and I have never received one…the ball is in their court. I have truly, no conceivable answer as to the actions they engage in. I have not one word form anyone of the four as to what they believe…with no starting place.. the ball is in their court and I have moved on.

  • tim

    tim

    December 19th, 2017 at 10:50 AM

    nice story

  • mary

    mary

    March 19th, 2018 at 7:44 AM

    Dear folks who published here. Jesus was also a scapegoat in the eyes of the multitude in His generation and even continues clear up to this day. I too felt as a scapegoat in my family. I found that, in spite of the things that had tormented me all these years were born out of lies that began way when and perpetuated through the cellular memories of family members and others who had formed this pattern/habit of scapegoating. I listened to a course on “How To Hear God’s Voice” by Mark Virkler and began to seriously journal my thoughts, hurts and prayers to God. It is amzing how He has shown me truth through love and acceptance, and not judgment. He holds me like the child He has created to be loved. In my journals, I speak to Him and then He speaks to me through His still voice or/and visons, perceptions, His Word. All of this is very comforting and now I can see and understand. As a scapegoat, we tend to often live this out, unaware of the curse or darkness that was put over us at on point. The more I journal and hear from the Holy Spirit, the more I see this from God’s point of view. Mankind can be cruel, yet I see that mankind had also made our Creator, the One who made us to rise up in Light and Life, was also made a scapegoat by the ones who beat Him and crucified Him. But, because He arose from death and entered His place in the eternal heaven, He invites us, our spirit, to follow Him, clear up to His presence. To put off our fleshly mind-filled thinking patterns and to live by His Spirit that’s connected to our spirit and speak forth light over ourselves and others. We who were made the scapegoats by man are the very ones that the LORD wants to raise His Spirit up within us so that we will go out into the world and tell others who are in darkness to look up to their Creator because He is the Deliverer of those who believe and call on Him. He calls us to separate the Light from the darkness, the truth from the lie, the precious from the worthless, the man from the beast. He calls us into His resurrection life even while we still live here on this earth. So for us scapegoats, we have a wonderful ministry of hope, love and deliverance to so many others, and even our ‘persecutors,’ who need this redemtion just as much, or more, than we do. He desires to pour His glory into our lives and heal our “broken vessels.”

  • Natalie

    Natalie

    April 11th, 2018 at 8:24 AM

    Childhood. Not a free right of passage for all children. Blackmail. Eg. The skills a pathological expertise artist applies on a empathic innocent child. Providing a means to ‘cover their evil tracks’. But that’s history. Its now 40 years later. The ‘great goat escape’ ends the nightmares, right? Apparently not without conditions. Fantasy is the only place of access for inter- personal relationships, for me. Im a moralistic masochist. The repetitive cycle of manifesting lovers with a dynamic destined to be emotionally unsuitable causing psychological damage. Yet i persistently forge on. Trying to change the outcome. Wishing for a happy co-existence. In reality co-creating rejection. The pain i endure silently alone is perhaps is an indication of my inability to consciously feel guilt or shame. A subconscious self constructed punishment. I dig a grave with tools i dream are care and deep loyal devotion. Can i love? Can i be loved? A hybrid scapegoat. Not like the more commonly understood goat that projects, blames others and/or applies the black & white sight method. I blame me. I take full responsibility. Yet with capabilities of attributes only found in heaven or hell. Im feared and loved in the same breath. The air shared between lovers that floats into a space of an intoxicating addiction , pleasure and pain. My outcome remains the same. Unsuccessful. I believe i am cursed. I burn in vain. I ache with sadness. They may never know my intent was to cherish them as my god. My creator. In return they set me free.

  • Rosewild

    Rosewild

    May 31st, 2018 at 8:29 AM

    Sounds so awful for you. You did well to separate from them. They are probably trauma bonded, developed split personalities to cope or in serious denial and project feelings. They’re not rational and make up reality. I have gone into abuse counseling but sometimes I think to do family therapy but think they would e so good at abuse I would be abused further there but still it is my fantasy. I’m glad you did so well. Still the shaming and scapegoating is twisted and twists my Ming. Carry on.

  • Bev

    Bev

    August 2nd, 2018 at 7:03 AM

    I have been a scapegoat all of my life. If it were not for my belief and faith in God, I could not do the work to no longer be the family scapegoat. I am writing letters to my family members. I may send the letters or I may not. However, the letters are helping me to see the truth. I’m starting to feel free from the guilt and shame that has imprisoned me all my life. My plan is to move to Maine from Washington state. I am not running from my family. I am moving becau

  • Beverly

    Beverly

    August 2nd, 2018 at 7:35 AM

    I have been a family scape goat all my life.

  • Collie

    Collie

    September 18th, 2018 at 5:54 PM

    I found this as I sat here in tears and raging because it’s happened again. I’ve dealt with this my entire life from different family members. A man in my family will marry a mean spirited, crazy woman, who creates imaginary drama, lies, attempts to drive the family apart and succeeds. The man seems to think this is normal behavior and expects everyone else to do accept the abuse. I thought I had severed all the abusers, and here it comes again from someone who I thought would be least likely. I have enough experience now to see it coming, and sure enough, that’s what it is. Now I have no family at all. All I’ve ever done is be kind and generous to all of these people.
    Working through my pain and rage, I start to wonder what the heck they do when you’ve gone no contact. Do they just pick someone else at random and start the whole, psychotic mess all over again? I can’t wrap my head around this, as I don’t think like they do. I’m sick of trying. Your articles are excellent. Even though I don’t understand the mindset. I comprehend what’s happened to me now. I think I need counseling as this is the most painful one of all. I have no family at all now. It hurts more than losing a family member to death, because, although death is so final, at least it’s normal and natural.

  • Dan Johnson

    Dan Johnson

    September 19th, 2018 at 8:47 AM

    Dear Collie,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, you can start finding therapists in your area by entering your city or ZIP code into the search field on this page: https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. You may click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. If you need help finding a therapist, you are welcome to call us. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and our phone number is 888-563-2112.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy Team

  • Deb

    Deb

    September 19th, 2018 at 5:50 PM

    Reading thru entries from the time I entered my first one (12/17), I have continued therapy and continue by love for my True Father, GOD and my savior Jesus Christ who is as mentioned in another entry, The Scapegoat that weathered a life of being lied about and tortured . Because of God’s love, be gave his only true son, Jesus, to save our souls. Jesus lived in a physical body, feeling the hurt and pain we do, I always realize how extremely painful it was for God to watch His son Suffer! As a parent, I would rather take the pain than to endure an agony of watching my own son or daughter in pain. With that in mind, there are very powerful lessons that speak to the subject of Good and Evil. Good always prevails over evil. Evil tries by means of anything important to one, to grab an unexpected spot and wrap a soul up with lies and hate. Evils will “try” on a soul that is reaching to a higher and closer understanding of Gods love and The Salvation Jesus gives of an everlasting life filled with Joy. Here’s the power God has instilled in us thru Jesus Christ…simply protect your Love and and God’s Soverien Power, by stating outwardly..” stand behind me satan, get out evil, for I am the child of God Almighty and Saved by JESUS Christ, my Lord who always prevails, whom I serve. I serve God. Good always has, always, will Prevail.
    So much more to comment , for now I hope to stir sould to reach out to God , speak your love outward, banish nasty evil from your life and feel a peace. Evil runs at the words spoken of love and service and the goodness of GOD.

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